In her monthly column for Poynter.org Monday, Meredith Clark, an assistant professor at the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas noted: “You know how the saying goes: There are lies, damn lies and statistics. There are also statistical lies of omission.”
Professor Clark was writing about the American Society of News Editors’ recently released newsroom diversity survey figures, which included self-reported data from less than half of the more than 1,700 news organizations ASNE reported on a year ago.
The fact that only roughly half of the news organizations participated in the most recent survey is obviously troubling, but so is another development: Moving forward, many news organizations are saying they are not going to reveal specifics about their hiring, robbing us of the chance to know just how diverse — or not so diverse — their newsrooms are.
Journalism watchdogs such as Professor Clark and Professor Jean Marie Brown are howling about this, and rightfully so.
The same media outlets who wish to hold presidential candidates, government and big business accountable are showing their unwillingness to practice transparency themselves.
No one argues that we’re living in a time of great diversity, yet the same media companies reporting on the rapid changes in the world’s population are showing an unwillingness to fully report on the diversity of their own staffs.
Professor Brown, who teaches reporting and coaches student journalists at Texas Christian University, is a former newspaper executive for Knight Ridder and McClatchy newspapers. She suggests media properties want to hide their poor performance in diversity hiring.
“In 2008 the industry was not nearing its (diversity hiring) goals,” she said. “Since then the industry has shed hundreds, thousands of minorities. The numbers that have been hit hardest are from minorities and women. At a certain point you stop reporting that because the numbers are never going to look good.”
Professor Clark says withholding specific details about minority hiring, such as the percentage of women or minorities on staff is just plain wrong. “This is very hypocritical,” she says. “I am curious why this decision was made in a business that has transparency as a bedrock principle.
“This is not meaningful data reporting. Meaningful data reporting gets into the nitty gritty behind the numbers, the truth behind what is happening in our newsrooms.”
Unfortunately, moving forward, the truth behind what is really going on in newsrooms may not be widely known at all — and that’s a shame.